Archive for September, 2008

Seeing a Shrink

September 29, 2008

The other day I was browsing a favorite baseball blog, Bugs & Cranks, when I stumbled upon an interesting piece on the decline in home runs hit this year in Major League Baseball.

Hmm. I commented there, but thought I’d expand on the thought a bit here.

Now, old SC is no doctor, but he does have a theory based on watching a few notable (obvious) steroid abusers and their performance as they (obviously) stopped using. Those observations suggest to these eyes that it’s about a season and a half before a juicer returns to a level of body comfort that allows his more natural talent to re-establish itself.

Like, say a guy was a good infielder with a little pop but not the kind that earns you $15 million per season. Very talented, or he wouldn’t be in the big leagues, right? He takes HGH, starts mashing, earns the big paycheck and everybody’s happy. Then he has a cancer scare, or just gets spooked by the idea of drug testing. He stops using, and his performance tanks as his body tries to adjust.

This includes his eyes, as some allege that HGH has performance-enhancing abilities there, too. Gone is the Ted Williams eyesight — he said he could see the seams as the baseball approached home plate — that, paired with above-average major league abilities, turned your guy into a dangerous hitter.

The season after your infielder hit 40 home runs and batted .290, he’s become an all-field, no-hit guy. For a season and a half he just plain stinks, at least in comparison to what he was. Soon, an MLB owner might be so eager to unload this “bad” contract that he’ll make Mr. Ex-Slugger a throw-in on a bigger deal. In the new place, he keeps scuffling for a while, then slowly regains his natural abilities. A couple of seasons after the trade, he’s a very valuable player.

Call me crazy, but does this look like anyone you know?

A lot of guys you know?

Hmm.

Symbolic Gesture

September 25, 2008

Editor’s note: A version of this entry appeared a while back in my blog on letterpress printing. I thought I’d share it again here with a different audience just for grins.

Go ahead, put an asterisk next to the Softball Coach’s name in the record books.

I’ll do it for you: Softball Coach.*

Feel better? Me too. In fact, I’ve rarely felt as strongly** about an issue.

Really, people. Leave the asterisk alone. How did such a magnificent old typesetter’s symbol come to represent everything negative?

How soon we forget. The asterisk has always stood for added value. Think about it: An asterisk whispers of even more great stuff to come later. Present but never pushy. Always helpful. “Don’t stop reading on my account, for I’d hate to interrupt the author’s brilliant prose. But when next we meet, I’ll provide a little more detail or context.”

Now we’ve got a presidential candidate (John McCain***) and a fashion designer (Marc Ecko****) insisting that a baseball player (Barry Bonds*****) has done something so anti-American, so egregious and evil that only an asterisk can capture its rottenness.******

Barry Bonds may have made a Faustian deal in exchange for baseball greatness. It looks bad. And people are starting to go to prison over this whole steroids thing. The asterisk, meanwhile, has done nothing but serve mankind. Why, then, should these two be forever linked?

Just had to get that off my chest.*******

*Note: The Softball Coach is not currently listed in any record book.

** The Softball Coach does not use steroids.

*** Some day just a footnote in human history, as we all shall be.

**** Ditto.

***** Squared.

****** The Softball Coach does not condone cheating in any fashion.

******* Again, unenhanced by human growth hormone (but I guess you knew that — didn’t mean to intrude).

Fuhgeddabout Yankee Stadium? Never

September 17, 2008

Dan Pasqua got me invited onto the field at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, the reserve Yankees outfielder/failed phenom of the Eighties had no idea who I was, a low-rent journalist in New Jersey whose buddy at our tiny newspaper had a big idea. We’d talk our way into press passes to the stadium on the notion that we’d be covering Pasqua, the local boy made good. Naturally, I was skeptical about the freaking Yankees letting two nobodies like us on the field for a game.

Never mind getting a press pass for the entire season.

Swear to god. The one hitch was that we could come only when Western Division opponents were visiting — White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Angels … you know, lousy teams (in those dark days) that no New Yorker in his right mind wanted to see live or read about in the papers.

You have to remember that this was not the Derek Jeter dynasty we’re talking about. Don Mattingly’s back was already sore. Omar Moreno was the center fielder, for heaven’s sake.

Still, there we were, a couple of phony-baloneys. Me with my camera, Dave Dorfman — starstruck literally beyond words — with his notebook and pen, beside the batting cage as Kent Hrbek stood next to us and Gary Gaetti called his home run shots during Minnesota Twins batting practice. Now, I grew up in Cranston, R.I., Red Sox country. But standing on that storied turf, watching Gaetti mash baseballs up, up, up toward that white facade … only to see them sink, sink, sink and just barely clear the centerfield fences. Wow. What an enormous, magical place Yankee Stadium was.

If Dan Pasqua had made it as a pro, I might even be a Yankees fan today. (Thanks … and sorry, bud.) Mary IS a Yankees fan, baptized by fireworks and Yankee Franks when I took her to her first ever Major League game at The House That Ruth Built. My bad.

Anyway, soon we’ll put a fork in the old place. The 2008 Yanks have stunk out the joint for the last time. And the facade will soon fall. They all do. Ask a Roman.

Can’t find one? Hmmm.

But the memories of Yankee Stadium will stay with pretty much anyone who’s been in the place. The guy who climbed the foul pole to the upper deck, where about a thousand security officers — the dreaded “yellow jackets” — were waiting. Streakers. Assaults (mostly verbal, thank goodness). Chambliss. F-ing Lou Piniella. Mr. May, Mr. October and Mr. Torre. Rags, Pags and Ricky. The Bronx Cheer. Donnie Baseball. “Who’s Your Daddy?” Pine tar. Yes, fireworks and franks, including Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Ah You Kiddin’ Me?

Red Sox fans will no doubt cheer as the wrecking ball throws high-and-hard ones at the site of so much heartbreak and — 2004 notwithstanding — precious little onfield joy. But you have to hand it to the old ballyard. Like its hated, or loved, pinstriped occupants, it certainly knew how to get under your skin.

A bit like Fenway Park, whose days, like ours, fellow Romans, are also incontrovertably numbered.

The Softball Coach and the Dreamgirl

September 16, 2008

One day, I dragged Mary — almost literally — to a basketball game at rickety old Boston Garden. My friend Jan Simmons had offered up her brother’s Celtics season tickets for the night: two seats, one behind the other alongside the tunnel through which players entered and exited the court. (Yes, they were the seats of, ahem, her nephew Bill Simmons and his dad.)

Mary allowed as how the stadium’s parquet floor was a nice touch, but explained that all the shamrock green — the team color! — was a little tacky and that it was going to take me a lot of trips to the concession stands to make her a good sport about this nonsense.

So I told her a story. It might have been about Bill Walton’s comeback from oblivion to the Celtics, the only team that would give the old guy another chance. Or the players’ “No Beer Until We Win a Championship” pledge. Or ex-garbageman Larry Bird’s “you can wear that if you want” wedding proposal, in which he placed the ring on the pickup truck’s seat next to his girlfriend. (She actually said yes.) Or that the first black man I’d ever seen in person — Celtics great Paul Silas — accidentally ran the 6-year-old me over outside the Garden’s locker rooms one day. (“You’re OK, little man,” he said as he gently picked me up.)

Whatever it was, Mary’s shoulders relaxed a little bit. So I kept it up, a steady stream of whispered tales — no stats — and observations about cool things to watch for (see the championship banners rustle as Bird launches a three-pointer and the crowd collectively sucks its breath in … and watch the rafters shake as the crowd roars when he makes the shot), which then would somehow happen on cue. Let’s just say that by the time 7-footer Robert Parish — “The Chief” — slapped her outstretched hand as he entered the tunnel, Mary had changed her opinion on a lot of things.

Today, a favorite refrigerator cartoon features a room full of men and women, with the women — not the men — filling the air with snippets of sports conversation. The caption? “Dreamgirls.”

Sports are about stories, from ones we heard at Dad’s knee to the ones we’ll one day tell anyone who’ll listen at the retirement home. The ones that require an asterisk to those no asterisk could explain. I like stats, too. But mostly I cherish the stories and the characters. The good stuff that makes sports so much more than grown men and women chasing a ball.

I always say that winning and losing are not everything — just two of the possible outcomes when you get together to play a game. Sappy? Whatever. I believe it. Mary calls me “the Softball Coach” — both for my tender approach to teaching and my unquestioning love for the games. It’s stolen from a line by a reluctant former employee who, irked by my encouragement, persistence, patience and good humor, finally asked: “What are you, a softball coach?”

So be it.

About This Blog

September 16, 2008

Back when I was an antsy little boy, buzzing around the house and getting on my mom’s nerves, she’d boot me out the back door with a sarcastic, “Go play in traffic, kid.”

So one day, when I was going on about the latest cool thing I’d seen in sports, or pontificating on this subject or that, my wife Mary said, with exasperation, “You know, you really should just start a sports blog.”

But we all know what she was really saying:

“Go play in traffic, kid.”

Web traffic.

Of course, it’s a little hard to tell which traffic is more dangerous sometimes. I mean, out here you can get just as slammed and spattered. And a vehicle isn’t going to insult your heritage or call you fat because you like or dislike a certain player or tip over a sacred cow.

Ever read Ray Ratto’s blog on cbssportsline.com? He’s a brilliant writer for a San Francisco paper with a sharp eye for hypocrisy and a great flair for comedy. Ever see his readers’ comments? “Go eat another bag of donuts, you fat idiot!” … “This is the stupidest piece of garbage I’ve ever read!” Stuff like that.

Which brings us, naturally, to what in the name of Ray Ratto do I think I’m doing out here? Another sports blog?

Sharing stories, shooting the breeze, starting conversations. I hope you’ll read, find a common thread that runs through sports. If you disagree or find me in error, please say so, sure. But try not to get the spikes up or grab the facemask.

And I think this’ll be fun.